This is the place where on March 1, 1919 about 5000 Korean students first called for independence from the imperialist Japanese.
One of the reasons you may not have heard of the date is because independence was not achieved at this point. The Japanese ruthlessly crushed it. And Woodrow Wilson, the George W. Bush of his day in most every way, never really meant for all of that "self-determination of peoples" stuff to apply to non-white peoples anyway.
Since one of the big reasons I have been interested in Korea is because of their unique experience of Japan's brutal colonial empire and much more benevolent but still quite real US informal empire, I took a special interest in this park.
It is a beautiful and peaceful place and quite moving.
(My camera battery was dead today because I forgot to recharge it, so no pictures. But this place isn't going anywhere, it has been there for centuries, so I can get some in the future.
The park is good sized and also features a temple stone monmument from 1471, and centrally a 10 tiered Pagoda that, incredibly, dates to 1465. By Korean standards that isn't that old. On the edge of the part is a stone pedestal (upon which two old timers were sitting) that was built in 1392. The age of things really does astound me.
I've nabbed some pictures online, Here is a historic picture of the Pagoda (without its tip):
the pagoda is in this glass structure now, it is very Seoul, this mix of very old and new:
and here is one of the buildings on the park
[why ever take your own pictures of famous places anyway?)
The text of the Declaration is really very interesting, so here it is in full. There are some choice parts to it, it is worth reading. The text is in Korean and English in the park.
I have taken this text from the Global Korean Network of Los Angeles
The Proclamation of Korean Independence*
"We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea and the liberty of the Korean people. We tell it to the world in witness of the equality of all nations and we pass it on to our posterity as their inherent right.
We make this proclamation, having behind us 5,000 years of history, and 20,000,000 of a united loyal people. We take this step to insure to our children for all time to come, personal liberty in accord with the awakening consciousness of this new era. This is the clear leading of God, the moving principle of the present age, the whole human race's just claim. It is something that cannot be stamped out, or stifled, or gagged, or suppressed by any means.
Victims of an older age, when brute force and the spirit of plunder ruled, we have come after these long thousands of years to experience the agony of ten years of foreign expression, with every loss to the right to live, every restriction of the freedom of thought, every damage done to the dignity of life, every opportunity lost for a share in the intelligent advance of the age in which we live.
Assuredly, if the defects of the past are to be rectified, if the agony of the present is to be unloosed, if the future oppression is to be avoided, if thought is to be set free, if right of action is to be given a place, if we are to attain to any way of progress, if we are to deliver our children from the painful, shameful heritage, if we are to leave blessing and happiness intact for those who succeed us, the first of all necessary things is the clear cut independence of our people. What cannot our twenty million do, every man with sword in heart, in this day when human nature and conscience are making a stand for truth and right? What barrier can we not break, what purpose can we not accomplish?
We have no desire to accuse Japan of breaking many solemn treaties since 1636, nor to single out specially the teachers in the schools or government officials who treat the heritage of our ancestors as a colony of their own, and our people and their civilization as a nation of savages, finding delight only in beating us down and bringing us under their heel.
We have no wish to find special fault with Japan's lack of fairness or her contempt of our civilization and the principles on which her state rests; we, who have greater cause to reprimand ourselves, need not spend precious time in finding fault with others; neither need we, who require so urgently to build for the future, spend useless hours over what is past and gone. Our urgent need to-day is the setting up of this house of ours and not a discussion of who has broken it down, or what has caused its ruin. Our work is to clear the future of defects in accord with the earnest dictates of conscience. Let us not be filled with bitterness or resentment over past agonies or past occasions for anger.
Our part is to influence the Japanese government, dominated as it is by the old idea of brute force which thinks to run counter to reason and universal law, so that it will change, act honestly and in accord with the principles of right and truth.
The result of annexation, brought about without any conference with the Korean people, is that the Japanese, indifferent to us, use every kind of partiality for their own, and by false set of figures show a profit and loss account between us two peoples most untrue, digging a trench of everlasting resentment deeper and deeper the farther they go.
Ought not the way of enlightened courage to be to correct the evils of the past by ways that are sincere, and by true sympathy and friendly feeling make a new world in which the two peoples will be equally blessed?
To bind by force twenty millions of resentful Koreans will mean not only loss of peace forever for this part of the Far East, but also will increase the ever growing suspicion of four hundred millions of Chinese - upon whom depends the danger or safety of the Far East - besides strengthening the hatred of Japan. From this all the rest of the East will suffer. To-day Korean independence will mean not only daily life and happiness for us, but also it would mean Japan's departure from an evil way and exaltation to the place of true protector of the East, so that China, too, even in her dreams, would put all fear of Japan aside. This thought comes from no minor resentment, but from a large hope for the future welfare and blessing of mankind.
A new era wakes before our eyes, the old world of force is gone, and the new world of righteousness and truth is here. Out of the experience and avail of the old world arises this light on life's affairs. The insects stifled by the foe and snow of winter awake at this same time with the breezes of spring and the soft light of the sun upon them.
It is the day of the restoration of all things on the full tide of which we set forth, without delay or fear. We desire a full measure of satisfaction in the way of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and an opportunity to develop what is in us for the glory of our people.
We awake now from the old world with its darkened conditions in full determination and one heart and one mind, with right on our side, along with the forces of nature, to a new life. May all the ancestors to the thousands and ten thousand generations aid us from within and all the force of the world aid us from without, and let the day we take hold be the day of our attainment. In this hope we go forward.
Three Items of Agreement
1. This work of ours is in belief of truth, religion and life, undertaken at the request of our people, in order to make known their desire for liberty. Let no violence be done to any one.
2. Let those who follow us, every man, all the time, every hour, show forth with gladness this same mind.
3. Let all things be done decently and in order, so that our behavior to the very end may be honorable and upright".
The 4,252nd year of the Kingdom of Korea, 3rd Month.
Representatives of the people.
The signatures attached to the document are:
Son Pyung-Hi, Kil sun-Chu, Yi Pil-Chu, Paik Yong-Sung, Kim Won-Kyu, Kim Pyung-Cho, Kim Chang-Choon, Kwon Dong-Chin, Kwon Byung-Duk, Na Yong-Whan, Na In-Hup, Yang Chun-Paik, Yang Han-Mook, Lew Yer-Dai, Yi Kop-Sung, Yi Mung-Yong, Yi Seung-Hoon, Yi Chong-Hoon, Yi Chong-Il, Lim Yei-Whan, Pak Choon-Seung, Pak Hi-Do, Pak Tong-Wan, Sin Hong-Sik, Sin Suk-Ku, Oh Sei-Chang, Oh Wha-Young, Chung Choon-Su, Choi Sung-Mo, Choi In, Han Yong-Woon, Hong Byung-Ki, Hong Ki-Cho.
I just love the smooth, underhanded phrasings of
"We have no desire to accuse Japan of breaking many solemn treaties since 1636, nor to single out specially the teachers in the schools or government officials who treat the heritage of our ancestors as a colony of their own, and our people and their civilization as a nation of savages, finding delight only in beating us down and bringing us under their heel."
"We have no wish to find special fault with Japan's lack of fairness or her contempt of our civilization and the principles on which her state rests..."
and so on.
My favorite section is perhaps.
" A new era wakes before our eyes, the old world of force is gone, and the new world of righteousness and truth is here. Out of the experience and avail of the old world arises this light on life's affairs. The insects stifled by the foe and snow of winter awake at this same time with the breezes of spring and the soft light of the sun upon them. "
Thrilling stuff to read, is it not?
Here is a great story about the declaration I happened to read today by complete coincidence. I was reading a selection of Mary Linley Taylor's memoir over lunch in a collection of historic reporting from Korea called Korea Witness .
The text of the Korean independence declaration became known to the west because it was hidden away in the hospital bed of Taylor, who had just had a child. She was the wife of A.W. "Bruce" Taylor, who was an AP reporter. The Japanese were destroying copies of the declaration and printing presses, which were hidden in the hospital, and this copy was shoved into Mrs. Taylor's bed to hide it.
When Bruce Taylor discovered the papers, she wrote, "he was more thrilled to find those documents than he was to find his own son and heir." Bruce's brother Bill snuck the declaration out of the country hidden in a secret compartment in his shoe and wired off the report.
From Tapgol I walked a long way west across town to the Japanese Prison at Seodaemun-Gu (which is the area of Seoul I live, although this park is quite far from my apartment since the area is large). This was the colonial era prison the Japanese used to imprison, torture, and kill Korean nationalists. Now it is also a large beautiful park filled with monuments, old timers, and kids.